As a stock analyst, Jim Covello can appreciate a quick return on investment, which made his acquisition of Falling Sky this past January all the sweeter.
Just two weeks after purchasing the Lion Heart colt at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s winter mixed auction, Covello and partners watched Falling Sky capture the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs, putting them on the path to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), a trail that comes to its climax May 4.
Covello is just the kind of owner the sport of Thoroughbred racing desperately needs to attract. At 40, he's a successful young executive with a love for the game and three children he's already included by taking them to Florida and Arkansas to see Falling Sky race.
"To share this with them is awesome," Covello said after watching Falling Sky gallop over the Churchill Downs strip Derby week. "My wife is great with the sport and the kids are as into it as I am."
Unfortunately, having missed school to travel to Falling Sky's earlier races, the youngest Covellos won't be able to make the trip from their New York-area home to Louisville.
Covello grew up in Philadelphia but hadn't attended a horse race until after coming back from his honeymoon, when he visited his in-laws in upstate New York and a trip to Saratoga Race Course ensued.
"When you go to the racetrack for the first time at Saratoga, that's like going to your first baseball game at Yankee Stadium," said Covello, who played baseball in college.
Ten years ago he got into the ownership end of the sport through partnership groups such as West Point Thoroughbreds, taking a small percentage in several horses.
"I took to the sport right away and began learning everything that can go wrong," Covello said. "Once I did that, I still liked it, so I decided to do more."
The research analyst at Goldman Sachs met bloodstock agent Nick Sallusto because of his emotional tie to Irish Smoke, a grade I winner for West Point in whom Covello owned a slice. When she was bought at auction by IEAH Stable, Covello called the buyer to see if he could buy back in.
"I didn't know them from a hole in the wall, but I wasn't ready to let go of her. She was my first grade I winner and my family had been at the Spinaway (gr. I) when she won. I was too emotionally attached to let her go. Nick was working with IEAH at the time and they let me back in for a piece, and that's how I met Nick."
Sallusto has been behind the purchases of Covello's stakes winners, including Swift Warrior, a multiple graded victor this year who will be severely tested in the Woodford Reserve (gr. IT) on Derby Day when he faces reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan and multiple grade I winner Point of Entry . Lilacs and Lace is another Covello success story, having won the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland two years ago.
"What Nick has done for me on my budget has been incredible," said Covello.
Sallusto and trainer John Terranova liked what they saw of Falling Sky at the Ocala sale. He had won two of three races at 2, which contributed in pushing his purchase price to $425,000, a bit rich for Covello. So another client of Sallusto and Terranova, Maurice and Samantha Regan, who race as Newtown Anner Stud, came in for half of Falling Sky, and Covello also brought in his friend Joe Bulger for a piece.
Falling Sky had never raced two turns, but answered that question in the Sam Davis before coming back to run third behind Verrazano and Java's War , both subsequent grade I winners, in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II). Falling Sky set all the pace in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) before finishing fourth.
It has been a quick ride to the Kentucky Derby for the connections of Falling Sky, who will go to the post as a longshot. Not that that bothers Covello, who will run a total of four horses on the Churchill Downs card that day.
"I might just wrap it all up and get out of the game if it all works out this weekend," Covello said with a laugh.
"Then again, I said the same thing when we won three races at Keeneland the day we won the Ashland. But I'm glad I didn't."